Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

October 30, 2004

Dogs, cats and snakes

In the USA, many of us have cats and dogs as pets. In Uganda, I have both a cat and a dog, but they are more than pets. They are for security as well. They do not eat commercial animal food, calibrated to meet their every need. They eat what we eat, basically from the garden, the cat getting dried fish in addition, and the dog weekly scraps from a butchered cow at the market. If she gets free from her pen, she will occasionally feast on someone's chicken or baby pigs -- so we make sure she doesn't get loose! She would also eat my cat if she could!

I didn't know what a cat would eat when not sated on commercial cat food! Sam, my Siamese cat, will eat any insect, lizards, snakes, birds, and any of my food except beans and some fruits. He loves donuts and Pringles potato chips. He'll eat roasted bananas. He loves peanuts, avocadoes, and cabbage. Watching him hunt birds is seeing poetry in motion. I do not have to worry about mice or rats, or even cockroaches, coming into my house, because Sam will kill and eat them.

So why am I writing a newsletter about cats and dogs? I want to share a spiritual lesson I learned because of Sam, my cat.

One night recently, my night watchman, Ezira, and I had prayed together. He had prayed, among many things, for the safety of me, my property, and even my cat and dog. Then I had gone on to bed, and quickly fell asleep. To tell you this story, I must explain my sleeping arrangements.

Because I've been in the process of building my house, and have been living in very small quarters, I made the decision from the time I moved in, that I would save space by not having a bed. I could have more room if I just stored my mattress on top of my closet, bringing it down at night time, and making up my bed on the floor. Then I put a small table beside it for my candle and clock, and usually a book I read before I go to sleep. Then in the morning, I put everything away, and thus I enjoy more space in my house. Now, lest you think, "Oh, how sad," or "Oh, how primitive," let me remind you, I chose to do this myself for a practical reason. I also live in a culture where most folks do sleep on the ground, so this is not unusual except in the sense that foreigners don't usually do it. I've found my bed to be quite comfortable, and getting up and down from the floor actually has helped limber and strengthen my body, which on its own had been getting fat and stiff and old…

On with my story… I had gone quickly to sleep, being very tired that day. Then sometime in the night, I was awakened when Sam jumped off his chair where he normally sleeps, and rustled a paper. I am a light sleeper, so if Sam prowls around, I can't sleep, so I usually light my candle to see what he's doing. If he's after an insect or a mouse, he'll settle down after he catches it. I reached out to pet him and he startled, so I knew he was intent upon something.

I lit the candle and saw Sam was pawing at the side of my mattress. Earlier, before falling asleep, a moth had been bothering me, so my first thought was that this moth had become entangled in my sheets. So I jiggled the bottom sheet where Sam was pawing, but nothing flew out. So I shook out my top blankets too. Again, nothing. And Sam was continuing to paw at the side of my mattres…

So I finally got up off the mattress, and lifted it up so Sam could see underneath it… and found… a SNAKE under my bed!!!! It was about 18- 20 inches long and about the color of my skin, as near as I could tell by candle light. I dropped the mattress back down on it, quickly got on my clothes, then called Ezira, who came in and killed the snake. He told me it was a very bad snake, one that kills many village children and people with its bite, deadly poisonous!

After he burned the dead snake outside with kerosene, we spent a time rejoicing as our adrenalin abated, in how God had led us to pray earlier that night, and how Ezira had prayed even over my cat and my dog. How God had kept both me and my cat safely!

The sky had been light when I awakened, and I'd thought it was near dawn. So I now folded up my bedding and put my mattress away, thinking I was now up for the day. Then Ezira asked me what time it was? To my chagrin, I saw it was only 1:30 AM! A full moon behind the clouds had made the sky look pre-dawn. We had a good laugh over that! Then I put my bed back on the floor and went back to bed. I slept like a log the rest of the night.

How could I sleep right after finding a deadly snake inches from my body? One thing I've been learning from life in Africa, is how literal the Bible is. It was written in an Eastern, agricultural society, not a Western, post-industrial society. In Luke 10:19 Jesus told his disciples: "See what I've given you? Safe passage as you walk on [or lay on!] snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God's authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you -- that's the agenda for rejoicing." (The Message) God gives us His Word, and we either believe it or we don't. I've heard messages on this passage that spiritualize it, such as snakes indicating evil and scorpions indicating suffering. This is a logical interpretation in our Western society where most of us live in cities and don't have these creatures endangering our lives. And there is truth in viewing it that way too. But in Africa, life and Scripture become much more literal.

So I choose not to fear. I choose to believe God's Word when He says He gives me authority over snakes and scorpions and over all the works of the Enemy, and that nothing will harm me. It doesn't mean I won't be frightened or threatened or attacked. It means as long as God still has a work for me to do upon this earth, I cannot be harmed by such things. I either believe it or I don't. I choose to believe it, and thus I was able to go back to my bed, right on top of the place where a deadly snake just died, thinking of the space under my doors that probably allowed the snake to come in, of all the hiding places for such creatures in my house, of how I cannot hear a snake on the move in the dark… and I was able to sleep in peace.

Crazy? Foolish? How many times do we allow the Enemy to rob us but worrying about what might happen in the future, because of what happened in the past? How much of faith is foolishness to the world? And even to some of the church? Where is the fine line between faith and foolishness? I often wonder on that one, because it seems to me that much of faith is foolishness to a practical mind. I think it's largely a matter of Spirit, walking close with the Lord, and following how He leads us.

I've noticed since that night that Sam will get up at least once every night now. He patrols the house, apparently making sure everything's ok, no snakes, and then he hops back up on his chair and sleeps the rest of the night. He's on guard. And so must I be. Not because I fear the spiritual or literal snakes in my life, but just because in Jesus, I am alert to such things. I know they exist to torment or kill me, but I don't need to fear them.

Neither do you.

Margaret Nelson